Amazing Grace
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I am not a lover of organized religions. My feeling is once you insert man into the mix, you start adding all sorts of strange and twisted dogma that has God up there in the heavens, tssking and shaking his head. I can't be sure, but I don't think God has a problem with women serving as leaders of the church and I can definitely say, He thinks the snake handler worshippers are morons. And I think He wants us all to stop judging each other and making rules about who's wrong and who's right and just start loving one other. The hang-up is in the rules, the man-made rules. 

And I am definitely very suspicious of the proselytizers who go around trying to convert others since everyone but their religion is going to Hell. Are they running some sort of commission for converts scheme? Insistence on conversion leads down dangerous roads. You only have to look at the history of the world, to see that. 

But, even with the rules, there is beauty in every religion: Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Wicca, Hinduism. My only problems are with the "religions" that twist God's word into depravity to serve their own evil purpose. For those guys: the Jihadists, the old men who claim God wants them to get themselves a bunch of purdy 13-year-old girls to marry, the Scientologists and all the other scary wackos, I'd like to set them all up for a giant game of Catch the Live Grenade--The winner gets to be stoned to death. 

But, I'm not sure, if that's what Jesus would do.

Having exposed my cynicism, I will admit to belonging to one of the largest religions in the world, the Roman Catholic Church. And even though, there are a whole lot of niggling slivers that stick under my skin about Catholicism, I stay. I stay because the people of my church have become a second family to me. I stay because of the ancient divine words of the Hail Mary, a sacred prayer, a comforting balm, blessed words that are there upon my tongue when I need them. I stay because of my faith. 

What seemed like a lifetime ago, I was laying across my bed, sobbing with a heart so full of grief, I didn't think I could bear its weight. 

My parents had popped in for a "surprise" visit, unusual in itself, since I lived 40 miles from them. It didn't take long to realize, it was no surprise visit, but a visit that had been planned for several weeks, the words probably already rehearsed. 

They told me in their all-too-casual, no-big-deal, way that my healthy, way-too-young, father was having heart surgery . . . the very next day. 

I was the only shocked person in the room since my Hubby had known for weeks. 

He was the only other person they had told. 

You see, there is this one thing I left off my gratefulness list, a biggie in my life's thankfulness. 

My Hubby's big strong shoulders. He has carried the weight of the world for me in my hardest moments of despair. He has carried my fear and my hopelessness and my pain and turned it around and helped me see that with him there beside me, it is all just an extra push up the mountain. 

He did that for my parents, when they needed financial and insurance advice and a practical head and a strong shoulder. 

He is Goliath when it comes to that. 

They made him promise not to tell me. They wanted to protect me, their grown-up little girl from all the worry and fear and sorrow. 

My dad had some major problems in his heart and we were there for hours in the cardiac surgical waiting room, waiting for the surgeons to say it would be all right, that they fixed him back, good as new, that life would go on, just as it ever had. It was a promise, sadly, they could only make for far too short of time.

As the hours dragged by, the surgeons finally appeared, telling us they had replaced valves and bypassed many times over and it had gone well, but there was a long, uphill battle to be fought. 

The next day, I was still in shock from the news that my father had just had major heart surgery, much less was in intensive care trying to recover. I couldn't imagine life without my dad, my much beloved, such a part of my everyday life dad. I felt like a little girl again, so helpless and afraid. My Hubby was at work, my baby was asleep and I succumbed to all those feelings of utter hopelessness and pain and flung myself on the bed, sobbing out my grief. In the midst of my storm, I cried, "God, help me through this. I can't do this on my own." 

And I know it's starting to sound as if you've accidentally changed the channel to the 700 club, but I swear, in that moment, in my most hopeless despair, a peace washed over me, like nothing I had ever known. I looked up into the blue sky out my window and felt these words blanket my pain, "Everything is going to be all right." In that moment, every bit of anguish was instantly lifted from me. 

And I am not that kind of girl. 

I am a cynic of profoundly, huge proportions, but there, on that bed, I knew the Big Guy would heft me over His shoulder and carry me through this land mine of pain. 

Two weeks ago, our phone rang, in the middle of the night. Midnight phone calls are never routine. They are full of dire news, life-altering kind of news. This phone call was no exception. 

When the phone cracked the silence of our slumbering house, I panicked, thinking it was our college girl. My hubby got to it first and it was when he said, "Oh my God, Michelle. No," that I knew my girl was safe, but my friend, oh my darling friend . . .

My only thought was, "No more. She is done."

Without going into too much detail,  for the past few years, my friend Michelle's life has made biblical Job with all his trials and boils, look like a pansy.

An only child, she has recently lost her own beloved father to a brain tumor. He battled bravely for several years. I was with her, eating subs in a Subway on a gray, drizzly afternoon, when she got the phone call telling her his battle had found its end. 

In the midst of her father's illness, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Her mother's diagnosis came just a few short days, after Michelle had been released from the hospital's ICU unit with grave health issues of her own, issues that took months of recovery. 

Michelle had just recently moved her mom, Julie, into a new assisted living facility. It was a lovely, brand-new care facility specializing in Alzheimer's care. Julie had been living in another nursing home, but Michelle always fretted that perhaps it wasn't enough. She wanted Julie in a place more equipped to handle the constant state of confusion that was now her mother's world.  

On that dark night, no one saw Julie escape the building. 

They'd already put her to bed, hours before. No one saw her slip away, most assuredly confused and trying to find her way back inside or back home or to the shopping center across the street. No one knows. Julie tried to cross the 6 lanes of busy traffic. 

She almost made it. 

Michelle called from an intersection, a block away. They had the entire road blocked off, the dark sky lit up with the multitude of emergency vehicle and police lights. She was never allowed up to the scene of the accident and for this, I think we all are grateful. 

As she spoke to us over the phone, the shock and pain in her voice, so painfully palpable, she found it inside herself to say, "She's in the arms of my dad now, her mind no longer broken."

In less than 2 years, we were back at the same funeral home where we honored her father's life. 

Michelle has a husband, much like mine. Tim is gregarious and fun and his shoulders are strong. He has stood by Michelle's side throughout all her trials, taking good and proper care of his lovely wife who has borne her suffering with a strength and grace of incalculable might. 

In the middle of the Christmas season, a few days, after burying Michelle's mother, we all went for the weekend over to the Land of the Mouse. 

Christmas presents were still waiting to be bought, the Christmas tree was bare, Christmas cards, (oh forget it, we won't even go there), and 5 new puppies needed a huge chunk of time and attention. But, we turned our head away from the duties of Christmas, got a babysitter for the pups and went to relax and laugh with our dear, dear friends. 

Michelle wanted to see the Candlelight Procession, an annual event at Epcot that tells the story of the birth of Christ through song and story. It involves a Mass Choir, a huge orchestra and a celebrity narrator. 

In all honesty, I was more interested in getting a bottle of wine and a platter of french cheeses and breads from France and sitting down for some awesome tourist watching. 

But, it was what Michelle wanted and we were making it a group effort-- to find happiness for Michelle. 

We got to the amphitheater, minutes before the show was to begin. I was amazed at the crowds of people. We had to stand outside the amphitheater's roped off seats. Even Davey Jones didn't get crowds like this. 

Chita Rivera was our celebrity narrator and even though she did a stupendous job, I was bummed to find out Andy Garcia had been the narrator the week before. There's just something special about listening to the birth of Christ, while getting to view some eye candy. I'm just sayin'. I don't think the Lord has any problem with me admiring Andy Garcia. God did make Andy. And He did an awesome job, I might add, especially when He added that Latin accent. Yum. 

But, we were speaking of the birth of Christ. 

We stood at the back of the theater, the constant flow of traffic crowds behind us and as the orchestra's heavenly strains soared around us, as the chorus, lit by the glow of candles, marched in their voices raised to the sky, and as the re-telling of that ancient, divine night began, I forgot the wine and the crowds and Andy Garcia and his accent. I was swept away by those words, the words that have borne the promise of man for century upon century. The promise that all of us borne into this world, will live, and laugh and know joy and despair and we will love and create new life and we will end our days, knowing that those who have gone before us, are waiting, waiting, all because of that one holy night, thousands of years ago.

It was on that crowded, boisterous street in Epcot, the story of the Christ child unfolding so beautifully before us, the choir singing, "Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room...", that I turned to check on my darling Michelle. She stood next to me, her eyes closed, in rapturous peace. And I knew. God had my friend in the palm of his mighty hand, carrying her through.

The destinies of our lives are so beyond what any of us can ever fathom. And it is in those mysteries that great joy and deep sorrow are born. Grace is in the essence of those moments, good and bad. We only have to look inside our hearts for its profound treasures and know that every moment here on earth is set before us already and it is up to us to make it a life worth living.

God is good. This is my truth. 

I will leave you today with the final words of the Candlelight Processional. Words that I will try and hold  in my heart, to sustain me in all my days to come.

"He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn’t go to college. He never visted a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place He was born. He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but himself. He was only 33 when he died…. More than 20 centuries have come and gone and today He is considered by many to be the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that ever marched; All the navies that ever sailed; All the parliaments that ever sat; All the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life."

Merry Christmas, one and all. May you enjoy the holidays in whatever beautiful faith and form it holds for you. 

Today's Divine Download: I'm giving you a couple today. The first is- "Let There Be Peace On Earth" by the Harlem Boys Choir. These guys bring out the splendor of that majestic song. "Let Peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow, to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

And then we have Amy Grant's, "Breath of Heaven." I think Amy Grant should just do Christmas songs. That's it. It's the only time I like her. This song is the story of what the Blessed Mary was probably feeling and going through. It's a quiet, beautiful song, recapturing what must have been, her anguish and then her beautiful plea, "Be with me now. Breath of Heaven hold me together. Be forever near me. Breath of Heaven." One of my favorite Christmas songs. 

And then we have, Faith Hill's "A Baby Changes Everything." Gosh, Faith can bring it. I love this song so much, especially the end, when a choir chimes in and Faith sings, "A choir of angels sing, Glory to the new-born King. A baby changes everything. A baby changes everything. Everything. Everything. Everything. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. My whole life has turned around. I was lost, but now I'm found. A baby changes everything...."

For my friend, Michelle who has traveled her path with a righteous, noble grace. I am here, always, my friend. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you have a wonderful husband. Michelle has a wonderful friend.

Putting all the Christmas stuff on hold is good. It's all too stressful now anyway. It's supposed to be fun. That means for you, too.

Merry Christmas. Enjoy it!

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